The traditional Moroccan dress for both men and women is this long hooded garment known as a djellaba. It seems very practical – the body is protected from weather and from the dirt of the street, and the hood can be pulled up to give warmth at the start and end of the day, or shade from the intense midday sun. Men mostly choose a neutral shade but we saw women in all sorts of bright colours such as blue, red and pink. If the garment has no hood it is not a djellaba but a kaftan. These are usually more decorated and worn for special occasions and celebrations. A djellaba could be used at home as a dressing gown and would make an unusual souvenir, as would a pretty kaftan.
Of course some women also choose to wear traditional Islamic clothing – to cover their heads, and sometimes to wear the veil or hijab, but we found this less common than in other Muslim countries we have visited and it appears to be left to personal preference, even among older women.
Peeping beneath the djellaba, on men at least (and sometimes women) are the traditional leather slippers, known as babouches (French) or balgha (Arabic). These are often in bright colours, most commonly yellow, and may have an exaggeratedly pointed toe. They too make popular souvenirs, but if buying in the souk do make sure they really are leather. We also saw a great selection at the Ensemble Artisanale (see Shopping tip) if haggling isn’t your thing.
Marrakech airport is about 6km outside the city and the best way to get there is by taxi. Be warned, Moroccan taxi drivers are notorious for overcharging tourists. You should not pay more than about 50 Dh for the trip.
Djemaa El Fna square
The world famous Djemaa El Fna square is undoubtedly Marrakech's main tourist attraction.
This bustling square is listed by UNESCO as a "Masterpiece of World Heritage" and fully deserves this title.
It's hard to know where to start describing Djemaa El Fna, so the structure of this tip will reflect that of the square - a little bit disorganised and chaotic!
The square is a hive of activity by day and by night. During the day, the square is dominated by carts selling freshly squeezed orange juice, dried fruits, spices and nuts.
Crowds gather around snake charmers, acrobats, dancers, musicians and storytellers. Old ladies sit beneath umbrellas with syringes full of black henna, ready to tattoo any flesh in sight! Next to them, an elderly gentleman will offer to shine your shoes for just a few Dirhams, or tell your fortune if you prefer.
You steady yourself to take a photo, but just as you get your shot in focus, a young child somersaults in front of your camera and asks for "just one Dirham please mister", while somebody is tugging on your sleeve in an attempt to sell you a wooden toy snake.
Watch where you're pointing that camera! If the snake charmer (or the man with a monkey chained to his shoulder) thinks you're trying to photograph them, a demand for money will promptly follow. Men in traditional, colourful Moroccan dress will actively try to invade your photographs!
As you step to one side to avoid a man selling leather belts, a moped dashes past, narrowly avoiding a collision with the oncoming donkey that is pulling a cartload of tourists through the square.
By night, the aroma of grilled meats and spices fills the air. Crowds flock to the hundreds of food stalls for kebabs, seafood, snails or maybe a sheep's head. Beating drums and singing provide the background noise, while the smoke pluming from the food carts provides the atmosphere.
Stop by one of the carts selling hot ginseng and cinnamon tea, stand shoulder to shoulder with the locals watching the activity unfold around you!
The Saadian tombs were rediscovered following a French aerial survey in 1917. Sultan Moulay Ismail had sealed them up, in his attempt to erase all memories of the Saadian dynasty. The earliest tombs here date back to 1557. The first mausoleum you see when you enter is the one that houses the tomb of Sultan Ahmed el Mansour. Altogether the tombs of more than a hundred members of the Saadian royal family are located here. These are the people who used to live in the adjoining El Badi Palace.
Open daily 08.30-11.45 & 14.30-17.45
Admission: 10 DH.
"Marrakech -- Third visit"
This was our 3rd visit to Marrakech and probably the nicest, even though it's a bit disappointing to see more and more tourists and how "clean and tidy" everything is getting. But the atmosphere is the same, the Place Djama El Fna day and night is still worth the visit, and the food everywhere, whether at the Place at night at the food stalls or food shops or at the Riad was quite good.
The Place Djama El Fna is so huge it's impossible to photograph. The fun thing about this place is that everybody seems to be doing whatever he/she wants wherever and whenever. Actually, it's quite tightly controlled, and there are plainclothes policement all over the place, but that's the impresion you get. The sheer size and activity of the Place makes it worth watching for hours, sipping mint tea -- we were never bored.